A letter arrived for Jinshi in his office.
It was made of neither wooden slip nor paper, but parchment sealed with beeswax. Postage customs varied between regions, but this method was common in the west.
“Is it from the western capital?” Baryou peered over from his side of the partition.
“As you say. It’s from Gyoku’ou-dono,” Jinshi answered.
“…Gyoku’en-sama’s oldest son, was it?”
In other words, Empress Gyokuyou’s older brother. He was many years older than the empress so they must have different mothers. In Jinshi’s memories, he did not much resemble the gentle Gyoku’en-dono.
“What is it about?”
Although Jinshi and Baryou were the only ones in the room, it was somewhat impolite to suddenly inquire after the contents of the letter. Baryou mostly likely knew this as well, but still ventured to ask.
“He wants his daughter to enter the inner palace. He had hinted at it some time ago, but now he’s cut to the chase,” Jinshi said.
“Is Gyoku’en-sama aware of this matter as well?”
Wanting his daughter to enter the inner palace. Any high official would try, but Empress Gyokuyou has already been instated as his majesty’s main wife. Does he wish to deepen their ties?
Or, was he trying to say that if possible, rather than the crown prince’s uncle, he wanted to become the crown prince’s grandfather instead?
Empress Gyokuyou must feel conflicted.
“Gyoku’en-dono may not look it, but he’s a cunning individual. He might have known, but decided to turn a blind eye.”
His appearance is that of a good-natured, gullible old man, but he’s a figure who has risen up as the emperor’s father-in-law.
“Was it seventeen years ago, when the I(戌) Clan disappeared?”
The western capital is the most important region in Rii. The region was previously known as the Seii Province(戌西州), but the namesake I Clan was put to death by the Empress Regnant, the previous empress dowager. They were dealt with under suspicions of rebellion, but Jinshi was three years old at the time. There was no way he would remember that.
“Yeah. And after that, Gyoku’en-dono gained a great deal of power.”
Gyoku’en is staying at the central region, with no inclination of returning home as things stand. This meant that it was appropriate to continue assuming an important central office.
When Gyoku’en showed up at the central, a capable person from the central who matched his criteria was dispatched to his son.
It was Rikuson, the military official who had been working under the weirdo tactician.
Gyoku’en had nominated him as support for his son, who was still inexperienced in matters of the government.
Normally, this request would be strange to hear. It was certainly the case that Rikuson is a military official, but he is skilled at paperwork. He should have done various things in the desk-work-hating weirdo tactician’s stead.
But there should be other more capable people around.
No, or could he be trying to separate the military official from the weirdo tactician’s side?
“Baryou, do you know about a man called Rikuson?”
“…he’s the person who was once Rakan-sama’s adjutant.”
With only a bit of thought, Baryou effortlessly got the correct answer. He was bad at forming human relationships, but he had a great memory for official positions and names.
“I heard that Rakan-sama is bad at remembering people, so he, who was once a civil official, was headhunted, having heard that he is good at remembering faces.”
“Civil official. That fits him to a tee.”
He is a delicate man. It fit him more to carry books than to carry a sword or a spear.
“It’s better to ask my sister for the details.”
“Maamei, huh. Is she the source of your information?”
So that’s how it is. If it’s Maamei, he could agree that she is well-informed.
“Yes, my older sister speaks to my wife often.”
“…wife. Which reminds me, you’re married.”
Quite some time ago, Gaoshun had mentioned that his grandchild was born. Was that Baryou’s? Baryou looked like a weakling who would faint from a touch of a girl outside his family–Jinshi looked at the other man while feeling a strange sense of defeat.
“Can I ask you something?” Jinshi asked.
“What is it?”
“When did your romance start?” Jinshi found himself swallowing saliva. It was all just out of curiosity.
“…Older sister Maamei and mum had plotted it. After comparing me to Basen, it seems they had picked the method that would most reliably leave behind an heir.”
The polar opposite Ma brothers. Certainly, compared to the idiosyncratic Basen, Baryou with his weak constitution might be the better of the two.
“I was told that I don’t know how long left I would be alive, so quickly make a child. I was forced to prioritise it over the Civil Examinations.
Since Jinshi heard that Baryou had passed the exam last year, chronologically speaking, he must have taken the exam after getting a child.
“…what kind of wife, no, I’ve heard about it before.”
He was so busy he forgot about it, but it slipped in his ears before.
“She is descended from the Mi(巳) Clan.”
A valid answer. The Ma Clan leads as the guards of the imperial clan, whereas the Mi Clan is the intelligence agency who reports directly to the imperial clan.
The Ma and Mi Clans protect the imperial clan overtly and covertly. To strengthen the relations, occasionally, there would be political marriages where they marry children from both clans.
“Must be rough, for you too.”
“No, both appearance and position-wise, it is not as complicated as Jinshi-sama. Besides, my older sister told me that if I lie down and shut up at night, my wife will make do.”
On top of easily saying something rude to him, Jinshi had a strong feeling that he had heard something that he shouldn’t have heard.
If such a candid political marriage was possible, the world will be easy.
As they chatted, they heard footsteps coming from down the corridor. The corridor in front of Jinshi’s office was purposely fashioned to make footsteps audible.
“It seems my older sister is back. Please ask her later.”
The sound of female shoes. Since court ladies are kept away at a distance for as much as possible to reduce trouble, they naturally knew that it belonged to Maamei.
With a knock on the door, Maamei came back, as they had expected. She was holding onto documents and a teacup.
“I’m, back… what are you two doing?” Maamei tilted her head at Jinshi and Baryou who turned to stare at her.
“What do you know about Rikuson, who is Rakan-dono’s former adjutant who is currently in the western capital?” Jinshi asked.
They finally returned to the topic.
“Rikuson-sama, is it? Let’s see. What I know is basically from connections,” Maamei said as she put down the documents and prepared tea in the teacup she brought in. “It is said that before he worked directly under Rakan-sama, he was a civil official, but I heard he wasn’t a civil examination passer, but came in through connections. He came from a family of merchants or something.”
“Through whose connections?”
“I don’t know that much. Shall I investigate?”
“No need to hurry.”
It only just caught his attention. That should be all it was, but—
Clever Maamei set the tea and tea cakes before Jinshi and started to write a letter. It was probably to promptly check up on Rikuson. After she finished writing, she allowed it to dry and then put it in her bosom pocket.
“This is the last of today’s documents.”
Compared to before, it had decreased substantially. It seems it would be fine even if he were to take a short rest.
“It’s gotten considerably easy now, but it’s going to get busy again.” Maamei sighed deeply. At the end of her gaze was the parchment letter Jinshi had been reading just now. “Are you serious? About going to the western capital?”
“It’s necessary. Gyoku’en-dono is troubled about the situation over there. His Majesty also expressed his concerns,” he answered.
Above all, the region is close to Sha’ou. He wanted to take one proper look.
“Does Jinshi-sama have to go in person?”
Basen had said the same. That guy wasn’t around, as it was one of those days where he trained with other military officials. If he were, it would probably be noisier.
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t Jinshi’s responsibility. However, it was Jinshi who devised the counter measures against the locust plague and he who worried over the west’s movements since last year. Regarding the counter-measure Jinshi had proposed, there were some other officials who laughed it off as needless anxiety.
It would be pointless to send some high official off on a jaunt.
More importantly, the enemy was not merely other empires or natural disasters.
“Hypothetically, what would you do if your life was targeted in the distant lands of the West?”
That was probably the greatest source of anxiety for Maamei.
“For that, I plan to bring the elites among court physicians and military officials,” he said.
“The conversation you had with Court Physician Ryuu about increasing the number of dependable court physicians, right? Then what about military officials?”
“As for military officials…” Jinshi tugged at his hair. Maamei’s expression told him it was improper.
After taking various things into account, this is what Jinshi came up with.
“I was thinking of bringing Rakan-dono along.”
“Hahhhh?” Maamei’s face contorted to an impossible degree. It was rare even for her to make such a blatant look of disgust. “What are you thinking? He’s going to go on a rampage. It’ll be a huge mess, you know?”
“I know, I know.”
“Just who is going to rein him in? It’s absolutely impossible to bring Rahan-sama along. No, there’s also Ruomen-sama if we’re talking about court physicians, though.”
As expected of Maamei. She understood.
“We can’t take Ruomen-dono. Long journeys will be hard for him at his age. More importantly, he has a bad leg. Even if we were to, he’ll be the last resort.”
“Then who are you… don’t tell me.”
He could skip the explanation since she was perceptive. If Rahan and Ruomen were no good, there are only so many people left.
“…could it be Maomao-san?” Maamei said, face twitching.
Jinshi averted his eyes from her with a wry smile.
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